When you see so many hedgehogs killed by road traffic, you might wonder how they survive at all. Surveys by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC), however, show the hedgehog to be the second-most recorded species here in the first half of 2020, behind the orange-tip butterfly.
In Co Cork, the hedgehog was in the number one spot, followed by the orange-tip and buzzard, in that order. Even if you are an astute wildlife observer, chances are you haven’t seen a hedgehog in a while as the species goes into hibernation, starting in October and lasting until April or May.
But it could emerge much sooner to feed and put on more fat, perhaps in February or March if the weather is mild, and then disappear again. People with good hedge and vegetation cover in their gardens should keep an eye out for them.
As people engage more actively with nature during the Covid-19 lockdowns, we’re likely to learn more about wildlife. During the first six months of last year, there was a 60% increase in records submitted by survey volunteers around the country to the NBDC.
In times past, many Irish people mistook hedgehogs for porcupines. Both animals are prickly and have spikes as defence armour, but there the similarity ends.
Porcupines can be two or three times bigger and eat plants, while hedgehogs include insects, worms and frogs in their diet. We don’t have porcupines in Ireland, just hedgehogs.
Among the myths about the hedgehog is that it sucks milk from a cow’s teats at night and that it can carry apples impaled on its spikes into its nest.
Now back to reality. The hedgehog, which is protected under wildlife legislation, is declining in some countries. But, according to the Vincent Wildlife Trust, it is uncertain if this is true here.
In Britain, the hedgehog population was estimated at 30m in the 1950s, but the number had dropped to 1.5m by the 1990s.
The intensification of agriculture has been cited as a leading cause of decline.
While hedgehogs are capable of surviving up to 10 years in the wild, the majority do not live beyond their second year. A study showed 54% of those killed on Irish roads were less than one year old, with males being particularly vulnerable. Hedgehogs are one of the most commonly killed mammals on roads.
Badgers have been reported as significant predators of the hedgehog and it has been suggested that badgers may limit hedgehog numbers in an area. However, Dr Amy Haigh, who did a PhD at UCC on the hedgehog in Ireland, says both species have been found to co-exist, with just one hedgehog death attributed to badgers over a three-year period.